New Jersey high court rules efforts to recall US senator unconstitutional

[JURIST] The New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that a state statute and portion of the New Jersey Constitution [text] authorizing the recall of US senators is unconstitutional. The ruling was issued in a case involving efforts to recall Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) [official website]. The recall proceedings were triggered last September after a recall committee filed a notice of intent to recall with the New Jersey secretary of state. The secretary of state refused to begin the proceedings after determining that such efforts would violate the US Constitution [text]. The recall committee appealed the decision to the state appeals court, which determined that the recall was constitutional. In overturning the lower court's ruling, the Supreme Court examined the US Constitution and historical record surrounding ratification. The court held that, because the US Constitution explicitly set the requirements for a senator's term and manner of removal, states are preempted from enacting laws authorizing the recall of senators. In its ruling, the court also addressed the portion of the state statute allowing recall of local officials. The court held that recall at the local level is valid and recognized local recall as an important way to hold state and local officials accountable. A spokesman for Menendez indicated that the court's ruling is a victory against fringe groups [Star Ledger report] attempting to corrupt the political process. Lawyers for the recall committee have indicated they will appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive].

The US Supreme Court has previously struck down state statutes attempting to place additional requirements or limits on federally elected officials. In 2001, the court ruled in Cook v. Gralike [materials] that a Missouri law requiring notice of a candidate's position on term limits to be placed on election ballots was a violation of the constitution. The court held that states have limited power related to federal elections under the Elections Clause [text], which primarily grants power to proscribe procedures for federal elections. In 1995, the court similarly struck down an Arkansas constitutional amendment placing term limits on federal offices in US Term Limits v. Thorton [materials]. The court held that states have no authority to "change, add to or diminish" the requirements enumerated in the Qualifications Clause [text].

 

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